University interview season is well upon us so what better timing to ask the Working Adviser collective membership for their top tips. Many thanks to all of you who responded. Let’s examine the main pieces of advice to pass on to our students.
Before we start…..
What became overwhelmingly apparent from responses was the reminder that, for many of these students, this will be their first formal interview experience. And, as such, we should be prepared to start at the beginning and not assume that they understand what is expected from them in terms of etiquette and the significance of preparation. Some will be well-versed, yes, but for others this will be a complete unknown and a massive leap outside of their comfort zone. There will also be those riding high on academic confidence, and assuming that intelligence alone will get them through. It is our duty to explain the expectations that the interviewers will have and how they can ensure they meet this.
So with all this in mind, the Working Adviser collective top tips can largely be configured in to the following 3 areas.
1) Know the basics
Make sure your students understand upfront everything they need to know about the interview – from finding the location (and planning the journey with plenty of time to spare), to knowing who will be interviewing them, understanding what form the interview will take and if there will be any selection tests involved. Students should use UCAS Track to gain as much information as they can but if in doubt, ask. There will be someone at the end of a phone who will be able to fill in any details that they are missing or that may not be covered on the university’s own website. Students should put themselves in a position where they are unlikely to face any ‘nasty surprises’ on the day. On top of an already stressful experience, this could prove just too much.
2) It’s not just what you say
Whilst it is, of course, important to be saying the right things, young people in particular perhaps underestimate of the important of saying (and doing) things in the right way. The right body language presents a sense of maturity and, subconsciously, this will all work in the student’s favour. Smiling, having a confident handshake, and making good eye contact are the obvious ways of doing this. But enthusiasm should not be underestimated. Students should be aware that giving good answers with a flat tone will not make a star candidate. Much more interesting to the interviewer will be a candidate, with perhaps a few gaps in their thinking, but who can show genuine enthusiasm and positivity towards the subject. Remember – they are not expecting fully-formed experts. Students should be reminded that it is OK to ask for clarification if they don’t fully understand a question, and to use silence appropriately if they need extra thinking time. Also, that it is OK to have a differing opinion to the interviewer, as long as they can back it up. University staff will be impressed by their ability to think critically rather than just rattling off well-rehearsed facts.
3) Research, prepare, perfect
In a great many circumstances, the advice we would give for a client approaching a job interview is the same we would give here – preparation is key. Students should research the content of the course and have some intelligent questions that they can ask about it. And in the same way we would advise job candidates to be familiar with their CV, we recommend that students attending university interview should know their personal statement inside out and be prepared to expand upon any information given in it. But the preparation shouldn’t stop here. Researching recent developments in their subject and being prepared to talk about topics above and beyond their studies are also essential for success. Interviewers will be looking for evidence of extra-curricular reading and research as an indicator of genuine enthusiasm. If selection tests are involved, students should be familiar with the format these will take, making the most of any materials on the universities website to help them prepare. If the tests involve essay writing in a tight time-frame, they should practice the art of planning a structured response, starting with an introduction and ending with a conclusion with plenty relevant content in the middle.
As we know, Interviews are a learned skill. Therefore, even the most confident of students should be encouraged to seek one to one help from a careers adviser or teacher prepared to run them through a mock interview. This should iron out any problems with body language, gaps in preparation or knowledge, and enable them to experience what it is like to have to think on the spot. They should also make the most of resources available on the internet, including many useful YouTube videos that will give them an idea of what to expect. With all this taken on board, students should be better placed to sit back and actually enjoy the experience.